Gustavo Navarrette and I arrived at Fundación Aitana in Cancún on March 19th to give our Zoe Reef reFORMed art and science workshop to the fabulous children, their nurturing families, and generous volunteers. As always, my favorite part is being drawn into the unknown and the surprising results. It is like watching something bloom in real time as we feel and see our way forward in each emergent moment.
Making Papier-mâché corals
Everyone semi-consciously feeds each others’ curiosity to try different approaches to painting and creating. And the speed! Working in groups like this builds beautiful fluid momentum so that by the end of 2 or 3 hours, wow, so many corals and fish!
Conversations and laughter, it was really fun and inspiring to work with these kids who are cancer patients and survivors. Not once did it seem like anyone was ill, but they are at high risk and need local care facilities. Fundación Aitana is working to bring pediatric oncology to Cancún because they don’t have it. The families have to go hours to Merida, Cozumel, and beyond. This leads to huge expenses and deaths that could be avoided. Right now as I wrote that sentence I see a parallel with the corals, how they have diseases and need urgent care too. It is nice to have times where fun activities help us to enjoy and heal ourselves and other species in some way. There is wonderful comforting connection in that.
Before I arrived in Mexico late December 2014, I was already anticipating COP21. I had marched with the Climate March in New York in September, and am in the wave of humanity doing something to address and reduce our carbon crisis.
My initial aim was to work with interactive technologists to projection mapZOE, our Living Sea Sculpture in Cancun, onto a unique building in Paris during this important Climate Change event. With a live-streaming webcam from View Into the Blue, not only would people online be able to tilt, pan, and zoom to observe and interact with our underwater project, we would interpret the visuals and the data, incorporate animation and effects, bringing this DNA-inspired coral reef ecosystem into the conference to reflect our dynamic ocean-human interface in dire need of attention and direct action.
When the Monterey Bay Aquarium invited me to be part of their Art and Climate Change campaign leading up to the conference, I was thinking it would be great if our plans to install ZOE in the sea the week of December 7th-11th would go through, synchronizing our coral regeneration work here with the mass global intention rippling across the planet. Working with Karla Munguia, a documentary filmmaker with years on Animal Planet, gave us some comraderie around conservation as we made this short video.
Corals here in Mexico have been feeling the heat this year. Bleaching is happening all through the region. I had a good talk with one of my collaborators at INAPESCA about what they are discovering recently. With so many variables, including an intense influx of sargassum seaweed since May, the usual onslaught of improperly treated sewage, and other contaminants from development, and the added heat this year, they see rises in algae and bacteria that severely affect the immunity and health of the corals, large and small. It is a big mix of damaging ingredients, and yet, resilient corals stay strong and are dominating communities where less hardy strains are deteriorating.
I’ve been designing the layout for planting 10 native coral species we would like to populate onto ZOE once it’s installed in the ocean. It’s exciting to envision how they might grow, and how other organisms and fish will come to animate the habitat. Just as I was getting ready to make a photoshop depiction, Somyaku found me through Instagram. He’s a kindred spirit, passionate to create beautiful and functional coral habitats with a reverence for closeness with nature and a desire to express our creativity in harmony with living beings. Here’s one of his renderings of ZOE with corals . ZOE was made in 2011. This is an actual photo of the completed sculpture (on land) taken by Mike Gerzevitz and now being immersed digitally for us to imagine.
Somyaku’s background in Ikebana ties with lots of concepts I’m having lately about my Bauhaus Design training at UCLA – this layering of schools of thought and practice that are our heritage and how they all intersect in the field of Art as Ecology. I’ll share more about that fusion in another post. Back to COP21…!
We joined #ArtCOP21 through their online events all the way from Mexico. People everywhere are making art and statements, fueling the tide for renewable energy and a healthier world based on awareness of finite resources, cycles, and our dependence on Earth. Our ZOE Reef reFORMed project (you can see us if you zoom in over Cuba on their map) came together really quickly with the most amazing people. Truly grateful to Miranda Oriz at Centro Bek for spearheading the “coalition” to help us create art and educate kids about the science in time for COP2. Our inaugural workshop on December 10th was successful. Kids and their parents were invited through this collaborative project into longterm solutions for healing coral reefs, to participate in protecting and rebuilding our vital connection with them and all Life.
Like Swirling Marbles, wind and current on the clear water distort the coral fragments below photo Colleen Flanigan
I’m studying Spanish while here in Mexico, and had the fortune to meet Dr. ‘West’ Marrin in class last week. Through our raw Spanish conversation, we realized we had a mutual fascination with the ocean, not only in the macro sense, but in the micro, sonic, geometric, and chemical. We got lazy (or real) and spoke in English to discover we had a number of mutual friends and colleagues in common back in the US, and that Art and Science are core to our work.
As I’m developing new design ideas for Living Sea Sculpture reefs, sound waves of music permeate. Music is the ultimate art form in its temporal nature yet eternal ability to effect us on a cellular and emotional level. We can always turn to a piece of music and be transported, moved, energized, saddened, hyped…the waves of sound are powerful, and of course, the ocean waves can take you under, take you somewhere far away, or lull you to sleep. How are sound waves of music and waves of water related, both the physical movement, the structural components and geometries, and the concept of rhythms and cycles.
West Marrin was a guest contributor to SciArt in America last June with this article, Functional Art and Water Science p.34 (scroll to p.18 in the pdf at the link). As a proponent of the genre, Art as Ecology, I am invested in raising the bar for functionality of art forms to the place where (once again) art is considered of equal value to math and science by world leaders and in the classroom because someone at the top realizes that without the ability to perceive your surroundings, discern the world with all of your senses, and imagine myriad juxtapositions and connections with your self as the common denominator, the common identifier that makes meaning to be offered to the world, then we as a civilization will erode powerful sensitivities and problem solving abilities within our species needed to evolve.
So back to the music idea before I rant about how much time, money, and resources are spent to produce a violent society rather than a creative and farsighted one.
“I envision combining a piece of music’s sound-waves with ocean sound-waves into a large sculptural coral reef. La Cumparsita, the last piece played at every milonga (tango party), is symbolic to me because dance is a well-known metaphor for life, and the idea of coming to the end of a fabulous time again and again and again at the end of each party, while we are facing the 6th mass extinction, there is something poetic, hopeful, and morbid united. Is it too far of a stretch to link the end of a dance to the end of a species? A dance that will happen again, but never the same. I want to embed that idea of the dance of life in a non-literal way, and music and sound epitomize that concept. Something transcendent or essential…Breaking down this narrative of cycles into sonic visual patterns for the purpose of regenerating endangered coral reefs and biodiversity through art and science investigation gives me a ground and rhythm to engage with such complex abstractions and information.”
That was part of my email to West today, to which he replied, “…As far as the rhythms of tango and the cycles of nature, they have a common source that is inherent in everything from the regeneration of coral reefs to the birthing of galaxies. All are based on the same fundamental geometry of nature that is expressed spatially as patterns and temporally as rhythms.”
And so, I’ll keep recording live music with my iphone. I like to watch the sound waves while envisioning a living reef composed of musical algorithms with the help of Autodesk software and scientific consultations into a score tuned for the sea.
Since arriving in Mexico to finalize and install ZOE, things are moving smoothly. Every part of me knows it was the right thing to put my stuff in storage and come here free of strict time constraints. I’ve met people every day, from photographers, to musicians, dancers, artists, veterinarians, scientists, taxi drivers, bus drivers, conservationists, travelers…people who are so open, flowing into my life with a gentle supportive tide. My transition to being here is made easy by having a local phone.
While traveling, it’s important to me to be able to text and call people locally to coordinate. All of my successful meetings and adventures so far, and most of my taxi rides, are thanks to my super handy phone sponsored by Mexitel Cellular North America. That link has all the FAQ’s you need to know before you rent one of their phones on ebay. I have used their phones on my last 3 trips here as well. I turn off all data with my US phone, reserving it for wifi hotspots to surf internet and occasional imessaging.
Donna and Rick with the company have been responsive to all my questions and concerns via email or phone every time I’ve rented. It seems like my minutes never run out. Telcel has a reward program which adds minutes to your phone, so this isn’t a situation where you’re constantly running to the store to buy more minutes. My social and business life are greatly enhanced by these phones, and you can get a blackberry or regular phone. Without the phone, my friends and colleagues here would never connect with me, well a few via facebook, but my life would definitely miss out on our constantly communicating cross-cultures.
About using the Mexitel phone for international calls, it costs only $1 to call US for 15 minutes, and you can receive calls from anywhere for free any time.
From the opening reception of the exhibit, TrashTara: It Starts with an Inhale on November 6th, until the closing reception on December 2nd, the Co-Create residency with James Tunick at THE IMC LAB + GALLERY continued in the backdrop. Unlike conventional gallery spaces, the 6th floor venue is a mixed-use morphing environment for artists and a few other small businesses to share. The Respire prototype and immersive installation truly gained a life of its own as James added interactive audio and visuals of data and living reefs projected onto the wall, ceiling, and kinetic sculpture.
Fellow artist-in-residence, Dan Baker’s, hanging art pieces made of retrieved plastic from local waterways were synced with data streams from an Alaskan tidal buoy in preparation for his upcoming exhibit, Ebb and Flow. A monitor showing the tides looked like an EKG. Though conceived separately, they added naturally to the concept and sensory media exploration. I brought over a small mineral accretion experiment I was working on at NYU in Natalie Jeremijenko’s XClinic to directly link coral health and innovation elements visually and physically to participants.
5 Gallon mineral accretion tank at IMC
Motion tracking was triggering the inhales and exhales of the Respire sculpture. The electricity to the biorock mineral accretion tank was on the same outlet, so anyone moving in the space activated or deactivated the electricity; it was like watching life support go on and off. When the sculpture was idle, black and white images from iron lung artificial respiration projected onto the sculpture representing the bleached state of coral and the need for human action to restore vitality and prevent increased mortality. James and I will continue R&D to evolve the project, tying interactivity and effects more intimately with climate change, coral restoration and life support, and interdependent interspecies health.
And what about TrashTara? I had proposed to produce video and photos from my excursions to receive an LMCC grant. My first experience editing with final cut pro, it was a sweet feeling to observe the raw results, far from pro but close to my heart. Colby Cannon, Rob Bregman, and Dan Baker all gave me some quick tutorials. I grabbed poignant GoPro clips from my street outings together with some footage of me collecting butts day and night. Watching my selected snips of documentation linked together randomly led to a meaningful string of spontaneous interactions I had with people throughout Manhattan. I knew people would be receptive to cigarette butt recycling and pollution conversations if they were first uplifted by someone in a costume embodying a compassionate artwork. The face to face experience and kind moments were proof that impressions and attitude, perceptions and expectations are always operating consciously and subconsciously. Everything about the experience was socially enlightening for me and others, and hardly anyone I met knew that they could recycle butts in New Jersey at TerraCycle.
From EVGrieve blog post by Andrew (no last name)
TrashTara’s Butt Brigade Poster made in collaboration with Colby Cannon
The photo I used is from Scotland a few years ago when I was intrigued with arty butt shots before I was thinking about how that tiny remnant could harm marine life. NOTE: I WANT $1 (or more!) to go towards coral restoration, but it is an ideal not yet real. Something to work towards.